“Welcome to EXPO, thanks for coming” – was the first words I heard when I stepped into the world of connecting minds and creating the future together on October 6, 2021 and I knew right there and then that I was going to return here plenty more times.
I remember the day when Dubai had won the bid to host the EXPO 2020, it was 27 of November 2013. I was in Dubai Airport terminal two, and suddenly the whole hell broke loose. The UAE anthem started playing in the loudspeakers, all the customs officers ran out of their booths and started hugging and dancing, and we knew right away that it was going to be something special.
Days passed, rents went up, vat got introduced, the EXPO logo changed, corona forced the country to move the exhibition one year forward, but we made it.
It was a hot and humid day that October 6, but I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sounds of the al Wasl Dome, beautiful traditional Emirati dance performance, by the queue in the Saudi pavilion, and the lights everywhere… so I went to see Pakistan pavilion first with my friend, who is half-Pakistani, and then we went to visit the Venezuelan pavilion, because he is half-Venezuelan.
Pakistani Pavilion truly deserves its recognition from all aspects, beautiful visuals, music, great shop, immersive experience and they said the restaurant is top as well, but I never got to try it out.
We had to wear masks at all times those days, which was annoying, but it is what it is, no stupid masks will stop me from enjoying myself.
Needless to say, I had to come back the next day first thing in the morning to go see the UAE Pavilion, and the Saudi one of course, this is how my EXPO addiction started to grow. I have visited the UAE Pavilion maybe 5 times more since that day, but every freaking time that cartoon they played inside made my eyes tear, how beautiful and simple it was. How much the sand of these lands have grown into my heart…
And whenever I had free time I returned, I went to visit more pavilions, try food from all over the world, share moments with strangers some of who became friends. I relived my childhood memories in the Kazakhstan pavilion, got puzzled by the message sent out by the Russian pavilion, where they didn’t allow me to sit on the floor, but I still did. Visited the GCC countries that I haven’t yet managed to see with my own eyes, listened to so many music performances, watched dance performances and clapped until my hands hurt, sang along, smiled with my mask on (of course). I have used every swing I found in the place because I am a kid, ridden the bicycle through EXPO from every direction, played with every cat I found… and spoke to every person who was willing to chat.
So many times I stayed in EXPO until late with the companionship of my true friend the moon, who was watching over me. Watched the sunsets from different spots in different weather conditions, and I swear when I was there, I didn’t even feel the need to travel to exotic locations, it was just perfect and it was already enough.
The water feature where you can unleash your inner child and play in the waterfalls, the sky gardens that take you for a spin for a perfect sunset view… The planes flying in and out of the clouds.
But then of course, I got offered a part-time job to cover the performances of the Saudi pavilion, and live my dream to be a part of this show, definitely I wanted to do that. We had such a wonderful team working together on this, and every night that I would go and share a moment of joy with the crowd, with the artists and the dancers, just like with my travels to KSA, as soon as it was finished, I just wanted to do it again. And the Saudi ice-cream to die for, and the flower crowns they would insist I wear the whole night, and the old guy sending me kisses during every performance… how can I ever forget that?
At Christmas time, the whole place turned into a new winter wonderland, and I was like a kid catching fake snow under the Al Wasl Dome. Spent my Christmas night with the Saudis, but it was better than any other plan I potentially could have had.
But with time and ease on corona restrictions, the crowds at EXPO grew far beyond my comfort zone, it was hard to get in anywhere and it was pretty much impossible to get a moment for yourself with EXPO, so on 28 of March I did my last shoot at the KSA pavilion, and said goodbye to the place and the people. Watched the closing ceremony on TV in my living room, and the fireworks from my window…
I can tell for sure, I have left a piece of my heart in there, and as much as I wish to return just one more time, I know that it will never be the same without “This is our time” playing in the background. Enjoy it while it lasts, remember all the joy it brings and then let go of the past.
This is our time, hatha wgetna
This is the moment we have to decide
It’s time to stand up and vow
To be what the world needs now
This is our time
This is the moment we open our eyes
If we can dare to believe and wake up to
Find this day
This is our time
Thanks for reading, take care of yourselves and hope you recover from the EXPO nostalgia soon.